When college professor Alec Klein learned that sexual harassment and bullying allegations against him had become public, he curled up in a fetal position in a darkened room at his home in Glencoe, Illinois.
“I understood that there was nothing I could do about it,” writes the 53-year-old Klein in his new essay “Aftermath: When it felt like life was over” (Fidelis Books).
“I was a realist. My life was ruined … The pain was especially excruciating because I was not driven by things like money and fame. What I did was important. It was who I was. ”
In March 2018, Klein officially landed in the crosshairs of the #MeToo movement. He was – wrongly, he says – charged with sexual misconduct by students and staff at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where he had taught for nearly 10 years and where he received excellent reviews from his students.
After retiring from the school where he headed the Medill Justice Project for seven years, Klein said he “lost everything.”
Klein, a Washington Post reporter and Pulitzer Prize nominee who investigated cases of people wrongly charged with crimes, said he had suddenly become someone he used to write about.
“Canceling culture is a sentence, but what happens to the real people who are canceled?” Klein asked the post. “Even very high-profile people have mostly just got up and gone. It is dangerous. Anyone can be canceled for anything. It’s the internet’s weapon and it’s scary. ”
Ten women who either studied at Medill or worked for Klein first made the first allegations against him in a letter to the dean of the Medill School of Journalism in February 2018 during the height of #MeToo.
“Today we are writing to inform you that Alec Klein’s time is up,” read the letter. “His harassing behavior. His predatory behavior. His controlling, discriminatory, emotionally and verbally abusive behavior must come to an end. We all know about it. We have seen it. It is time you heard us. It is time you listen. ”
Among the allegations in the letter:
- Klein tried to kiss a potential employee before hiring her. On the same occasion he asked if she smoked marijuana and asked to smoke with her and ordered several cocktails for her.
- He asked an employee to come to his hotel room “for a drink” on a business trip.
- He gave unwanted neck massages while a worker was trying to work.
- He made sexually vivid remarks at work.
- He often commented on the physical attractiveness, appearance, clothing and body of the employees.
- He sent texts to a student that were “intended for his wife”.
- He asked a clerk if she was a stripper.
The letter also states that Klein “belittled, insulted and verbally abused” students and described him as a “liability and predator.”
In March, 19 more women came up with a second letter to Northwestern and the media. Again, they accused Klein of inappropriately touching, making sexually suggestive comments, holding extended closed meetings, and creating a “hostile, discriminatory work environment.”
Klein denied the allegations. In the book, he writes that the prosecutors were used as part of their ammunition charges brought against him by a former employee in 2015. She was his administrative assistant and accused him of making sexual advances when she applied to work at the Medill Justice Project and later while she was employed there. Northwestern investigated the woman’s claims but was unable to substantiate them, according to a testimony from university officials.
Klein writes that the university also implicated her in a number of documented lies. He said he was shocked that “the university didn’t even lift a finger when trying to defend it, even after deciding those allegations were false three years ago.”
As the news of the allegations spread, Klein describes how quickly he felt like a pariah, both in his neighborhood and in professional life, when friends and colleagues distanced themselves or immediately dropped him.
“What do you do when you feel like your life is over?” Klein writes in the book. “My answer for a few months now: Plant my head face first in the fibers of the dining room carpet while I lie for hours at a time. This pose was supported by a high dose of Xanax. And alcohol. Which, according to the fine print, would bring me seizures, death, or a deep sleep. The latter was left to me. ”
He said he felt suicidal but was beaten to the limit by his father Ed Klein, the former editor of the New York Times Magazine. He took a hundred sleeping pills and put a plastic bag over his head shortly before his son died in May 2018, when he was interrogated by university officials. The older Klein survived and his son wondered for a while if he “tried to end it all because he knew I didn’t have the courage”.
Klein eventually submitted what he called the “Kafkaesque Inquiry” to the university, answering questions about both his time at Medill and his personal life as a student himself.
He alleged that university investigators ignored 10 years of the glowing reviews he claimed from students, including some students who later accused him of wrongdoing. In 2016, for investigating Klein and his students at the Medill Justice Project, a judge cleaned up the conviction of a day care worker accused of shaking a baby to death.
But “there is no proper process when it comes to #MeToo,” writes Klein. “I had hundreds of pages of records and emails contradicting the allegations. It didn’t matter. It was surreal and crazy. In the midst of this terrible hurricane, lawyers say you must go through with the process. If you try to fight back against the #MeToo storm strength, it gets worse. ”
Northwestern never said what conclusions the school reached in its internal investigation. Several women told some media outlets like Teen Vogue that the school had found Klein violating the school’s sexual harassment guidelines, but Northwestern officials have never publicly acknowledged this.
Calls and email inquiries sent by The Post to the Medill School of Journalism went unanswered.
Instead of fighting the allegations, Klein decided to step down as the situation was taking a “terrible toll” on his family.
Oddly enough, according to Klein, his wife Julie-Ann was one of the few people in his life who didn’t leave him – and even asked him to fight back. The couple had split up before Klein’s problems with Medill, but he moved back to the family home after he retired from school. It wasn’t about getting his marriage back on track, he said, but about saving money and “co-parents” their daughter, now 13, and their son, now 11.
The two still lived together, despite being legally separated until Klein moved out of the state last month to look for work.
“One unlikely source of support didn’t bother me: Julie-Ann,” writes Klein. “Maybe she hated my bowels every day. She may have wanted to slap my face from time to time if it were legal. But that was for the apostasy of our marriage, not this one. ”
In late 2018, Klein commuted from Illinois to Oklahoma, where he started a nonprofit that helps wrongly convicted or over-convicted prisoners (many of them women) regain their freedom.
He said he had also become religious after reading Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ” for the first time in 2016 and forging a new and closer relationship with his father. The two even formed a kind of private investigative agency with a Biblical title: Matthew 56 Investigations.
During a phone interview with The Post, Klein sounded both broken and weird in peace and without bitterness. He said he made a conscious choice not to be angry or vengeful. But he wants to warn people what, he said, could happen to anyone.
“People were accused of being communists at the height of McCarthyism,” he said. “It wasn’t until much later that people said it was crazy. The same thing happens again. They are coming for you and who knows how long it will be before it is stopped. “